FAO in North America

Leveling the ploughing field for women

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on September 19, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the US government will allocate $5 million this year to fund innovative approaches to promoting gender equality in agriculture.

Speaking in New York during a panel discussion on women and agriculture convened on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary Clinton said the funds would be used “to expand our knowledge base.”

“We know that women farmers represent a major untapped resource, but we don’t know nearly enough about which approaches will change that. We need concentrated research about the obstacles facing women farmers worldwide so that we know how to remove them so women can contribute even more.”

“If all farmers, men and women, had access to the same resources we could increase agricultural output by 20-30 percent,” Clinton said, echoing the conclusions of FAO’s latest State of Food and Agriculture report, which found that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, women could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent. “That would feed an additional 150 million people every year.”

Calling for research proposals and programs to support women farmers, Clinton said:

“When we liberate the economic potential of women we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and the world.”

The panel, which was moderated by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, included FAO Director-General elect Jose Graziano da Silva, who shared his experiences with Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” programme, which he coordinated as Brazilian Extraordinary Minister of Food Security and the Fight Against Hunger.

Graziano cited the important role of women not only in food production, but also with regard to food access and distribution. “Mothers ensure that ‘food first’ is not a slogan,” he said.

“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do good things,” Graziano added, saying that the cash transfers implemented in Brazil as part of Zero Hunger were modeled on the U.S. food stamp programme.

Other panelists included President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania; Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development; Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever; Kathy Spahn, President and CEO of Helen Keller International; and Reema Nanavaty, Director of the Economic and Rural Development for the Self-employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India.

View the full panel discussion below or read the complete transcript on the U.S. State Department website.

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